Archive for the category “Nature”

Voice of the Moor

Last weekend I was at Woodend Mill Studios in Mossley to participate in their Open Studios & Art Fair event. However, I was there to share my music and play some songs in the studio of Jude Gidney Photography rather than display artwork. I hadn’t performed for a while due to a long term health issue that had affected my voice, so there was a certain amount of nervous trepidation! As it turned out it was a gloriously relaxed couple of days with people dropping in and out of the studio, stopping to listen, to chat and enjoy…and to my relief, my voice held out, despite an impending fluey cold!

Part of the reason we were there was to raise awareness of our upcoming crowd-funder campaign for my debut album called Voice of the Moor – a collection of my original songs inspired by the voices of the hills and moors here in the UK Peak District where I have lived for the past 10 years. Many of those songs are very personal, born out of experiences with specific places and locations such as Bleaklow Moor, the Derwent Valley, Mam Tor, Nine Ladies Stone Circle. Others have been inspired by the broader experience of living on this land, being a part of it through the turning of the seasons and through relationship with the plants, trees and wildlife that I share it with.

Filming on Bleaklow Moor for our crowd funder video

This particular collection of songs is very important to me because of my history with this area. I arrived here feeling quite broken having left behind a life that had slowly but surely imploded until I consented to uproot and walk away. I didn’t know where I was going when I left, until I found myself here on the edge of the Dark Peak and knew that I was exactly where I needed to be…

In the course of house hunting I boarded a rickety Northern Rail train that took me out of Manchester towards Hadfield and Glossop. The scenery was much as expected for the first part of the journey…rows of terraces and chimney stacks, factories, urban road layouts, trees that looked greyed and overburdened by exhaust fumes.  As we crossed the motorway things started to feel calmer.  Trees looked greener and more vital.  Suburbia stretched out around me in the form of clean bricked semis and tended gardens.  I wasn’t paying much attention until we reached Broadbottom though, where things seemed to change dramatically…

We pulled into Broadbottom station and suddenly were surrounded by woodland and mature trees draped with ivy.  The intensity of the greenery woke me up.  I wondered what would come next as my journey continued.  Within moments of leaving Broadbottom station, the train emerged from the trees and I gasped as I took in the incredible vista of the hills and moors stretching across my view.  Something inside me rose up in sheer awe at what I was looking at.

I alighted at the next stop and stepped off the train onto a deserted platform. It was a tiny station and the track was lined with banks of bracken and foxgloves. Silver Birch, Ash and Willow let their graceful branches hang in swooping arcs over the undergrowth.  The air smelled of greenery and damp soil. Silence was broken only by the calls of birds and the rustling of leaves. The feeling of peace was almost tangible and I lingered in this sensation for some moments.  As I stood there, something seemed to wrap around me like a warm blanket.  It filled me with a sense that if I opened my heart to the heather moorland and the gritstone hills, to the calls of the corvids and the wild berries, to the bracken and the mist and what I would come to know as the relentless rain, then I would learn to live again.

Path Through The Heather On Bleaklow Moor

I moved into the house I had come to see that day and as I started a life there I looked more closely around me. I saw a land that had been split apart by ancient ice, that endures deep snows and wild winds that can tear trees up by the roots. This land is tough and resilient. It’s a survivor, an adaptor. For all of my fragility at that time, I knew this was true of me too. It was a powerful mirror that reminded me of my own ability to dig deep for inner resources, to endure and recover. I watched as the snow lingered in the high rock crevices till May while the spirit of regeneration worked with such determination to move life around it’s cycle, coaxing out the bees and the buds of flowers and leaves. It taught me to trust that however long this internal winter lasted, however hard and cold and dark…spring must eventually come.

Over the years spring did indeed awaken in me and brought with it a surge of creativity. The otherworldly whispers of the hills, the moors, the rocks, trees, plants and wildlife that had befriended me started to be expressed through song, through clay, through paintings and drawings, through poetry and storytelling. I found them mingling with my own inner voice in conversation…sometimes serious and wise, sometimes smiling and laughing, sometimes silent and simply present. I felt these voices embrace me as a part of their diverse circle of life, giving me a sense of belonging when I felt lost and afraid of what was ahead.

Lyrics to ‘Voice of the Moor’

At some point I had become that bee, allowing myself to be coaxed from the shadows of winter to feed on the nectar. I felt these strong hills supporting me like benevolent giants. They shored up my wounds and encouraged me to unfold, to know myself as a creature of the earth. I found myself opening to the light of spring and allowing it to move me into a fuller expression of myself. This process happened over many years and over time led to the creation of the songs that I am intending to record. For me, many of these songs are really love songs and offerings of gratitude for that journey of healing and transformation that this land has made possible.

This is a video of the title track…Voice of the Moor…set to images of the beautiful landscape that I fell in love with…

We invite you to join us on Facebook as we work on this exciting new project…you can follow our progress from the crowd funder through to the recording and beyond.  I am so happy to finally be able to share these songs with others and to honour the magic and beauty of this awe-inspiring place 🙂

UPDATE: Our crowdfunder is now live!  Come and take a look!

Advertisements

The Power Of An Animal

As a long time practitioner of shamanic journeying I have encountered many animal spirit guides or ‘power animals’. Some have come and gone, some have stuck around with me for the past couple of decades. They have become friends who have had a profound effect on my life. They have awakened dormant aspects of my psyche and spirit, provided insightful mirrors about what I am not owning, gifted me with a greater sense of empowerment. However, recently I have had a question circling around in my mind. Why is it that we don’t encounter human animal guides? In all the years I have journeyed and have facilitated others in journeying, not one of us has ever returned from our journey having encountered the spirit of our own species. Why is this? Why is it that we can spend many years learning about the ‘medicine’…that is the nature, qualities, energy, essence, lessons…of other species but don’t seem to have an awareness of the ‘medicine’ of the human animal? Who and what are we as a species? What is our role in the greater whole? Can we truly embrace that role and express our human potential if we don’t understand what we are?

The more I have mused on this, the more I have gathered new questions with a distinct lack of answers. There is no doubt that our western industrialised culture embraces ways of thinking about ‘humanity’ that facilitate a psychological separation from nature. Even our language supports this: the word ‘animal’ when applied to a human is invariably used to describe the most cruel, violent aspects of human nature. We talk about that behaviour as ‘inhumane’…’not human’…as if to be human means only to be ‘enlightened’, ‘civilised’, to embrace the idea of the superiority of mind over body, emotion and anything that ties us to our existence within nature. It creates a perception of humans as somehow set apart from the world that they inhabit, denying the existence of our natural wildness to become tamed, tethered and controlled.

treefoot

Ironically it has been these very ideas of enlightenment and civilisation that have been cited as justification for some of the most inhumane behaviour in our human history: ideological genocides; the colonisation of indigenous lands and peoples; wars; assaults on the environment…the list goes on.

This contradiction within western society – the perpetration of such ‘uncivilised’ acts in the name of ‘civilisation’ – suggests a deeply buried and projected human shadow, one we have not yet had the courage to fully dig up and own on a collective level. Instead of seeing the human species in wholeness with the potential for many different expressions and manifestations, we continue to split ourselves in two and our society becomes ever more polarised as we decide who is like us and who is ‘other’.

In reality there is no ‘other’. However different we may feel as individuals we are all connected at a deep level as members of the human species. Yes, we may take an opposing position when faced with the harmful shadow of an individual person, but in today’s world the much more painful encounter that we are so often faced with is our own collective human shadow. We find ourselves looking into the eyes of our own human potential and boy, that can feel uncomfortable. Who wants to acknowledge that they too have the potential for cruelty or harm? The potential to order a bombing on innocent people to score points in a battle of greed and power?

We would like to think it is simply not in us, that we are not capable of it, that we would behave differently because we are not like that ‘other’ person. And you know…maybe…probably…we would make different choices. As individuals we are not slaves to instinct. We create the person we are…the individual human…through the choices that we make. Those choices represent what we choose to express and draw on from all of that human potential that resides within us. However, if the potential for both light and darkness (however we choose to define those terms) wasn’t there, what meaning would those choices have? How does a choice to respond with compassion and love hold significant value if it’s the only thing we are capable of?

 

 

On a species level, are we actually different to the person who surrenders to the call of greed and power? Not so much. We are entirely capable of that exact same behaviour though we may consistently make very different choices about how we live our lives and feel strongly motivated towards manifesting a very different kind of existence. However, would accepting our own potential change the way we view or judge people who cross those boundaries of what we consider ‘human’ behaviour? After all, human potential…the essence of the human animal…is not ‘bad’. Like a knife that can be used for making firewood to keep us warm, or preparing nourishing food to sustain our life, it does not become an instrument of harm until an individual picks it up with that intention. The knife simply is. It has particular qualities that can be turned to a purpose, just as our own potential can be channelled out through different agendas by different individuals.

Our sense of identity as a human being, a human animal alive on planet Earth in the 21st century, can be limiting or expansive.  We can choose to acknowledge only that one little spot where we stand as a single person or  feel our connection to all of our species across the globe, all the humans that have ever and will ever live. Each of us are both the legacy of those who came before and an ancestor to those who will come after us.  In acknowledging our connection to our collective humanity, we have the ability to contribute to our evolution. We can use our choices in the present to create not only our own personal reality but also to feed and heal the spirit of our species that has been so fragmented and distorted. Perhaps one day we will be ready to look ourselves in the eye and remember who and what we are, to embrace the power of an animal…

The Unveiling of Spring

However long I follow this spiritual path, it never ceases to amaze me how each season continues to reveal different aspects of itself. Previously unseen lessons and mirrors of reflection present themselves with each turning of the wheel. This year Spring wants to talk to me about becoming visible in the world, an idea I have struggled with for most of my life. As a child making myself visible or noticeable wasn’t a terribly safe course of action.  While I have learned to overcome this to a certain extent in pursuit of my passions, the unsettling sense of vulnerability lingers, raising it’s head whenever I push up against the edges of my comfort zone.

Pursuing a creative education and career has challenged me in so many ways in terms of visibility. Anyone who has been through the art education system will know the ordeal of having not only your finished work but also all the mess that happens between an idea and that finished piece scrutinised, assessed and judged. I have often thought that art education in the western world is a kind of emotional endurance test…it asks you to make yourself vulnerable, to make your inner workings visible and manifest and then grades you. It can feel very validating if you are deemed successful, but soul destroying and shaming if you are found wanting.

tightrope

Having said that, learning to separate ourselves from what we create is a worthwhile exercise. Releasing attachment frees us to look honestly at what we have brought into the world and to learn from it, to accept that the majority of what we create embodies a journey rather than a destination. It is also necessary if we are to survive emotionally as a practising creative of any kind in the world – we cannot avoid criticism if we choose to put our work in front of a wider audience. But I find myself asking what is the cost of learning that detachment in the painful way we so often do? Do we make ourselves less visible? Do we learn to hold back? Become focussed on an end product to please others rather than feeling free to take risks and explore the infinite ways to experience and express the authentic voice within us?

The structures and systems of our society do not tend to help many of us in making that deeper internal connection that open us up to living an authentic life regardless of external opinion.  Insidious messages about every aspect of who we should be and what we should aspire to flow towards us relentlessly from the modern world.  Our media, government and corporations work hard to orientate us towards external criteria as a measure of our worth.  We are not often encouraged to seek out what is meaningful or true for us as individuals and the social penalties of stepping outside of these accepted values can be difficult to deal with. It can take a significant amount of motivation and courage to walk our own path and be truly present in our life.

headshop

When it comes to creativity, many people never recover from the school system. I have lost count of the number of people I have spoken to at various events who have pointed to my work and said “I would love to do something like that but I was never any good at art at school” At some point in their early years someone measured them against a narrow set of criteria for a narrow range of creative outlets, found them lacking and defined them. The result was a belief embedded in a young consciousness that they were ‘not creative’ and did not have permission to pursue those activities. The joy and inner connection that they may have experienced through these activities was not relevant to the grading system.

I myself was labelled as someone who ‘couldn’t draw’. It took many years for me to realise that there are many different ways to draw and make marks and that they are all valid.  It was only as I came to understand that my beliefs about my creativity came from an external voice and did not speak for my heart that I was able to give myself permission to reach for what came from inside.

When I learned that it was okay to express myself in ways that I felt genuinely connected to, that made some part of me visible and tangible, I found I could tap into something that felt altogether different. Though I still sometimes have to remind myself that I am the one who gives myself permission to create, nobody else.

pearl

I guess what I’m getting at here is the way in which, for so many of us, the fear of judgement (whether from others or ourselves) and the desire to avoid the emotions that those judgements provoke in us, can send us scurrying back into our shells, our thick defensive skins, rather than risk being visible, vulnerable, authentic. However we came to take on that fear, however we came to believe that an external voice is more valid than the voice in our heart that longs to speak for itself, for many of us it’s a very real sensation. It can feel overwhelming when we start to break out of our limiting beliefs and thinking. We might even self sabotage in the pursuit of our dreams to give ourselves an excuse to run back to the comfortable shadow of anonymity. But it’s important for our own growth that we keep pressing up against those self imposed boundaries and limitations, asking  ourselves “does this belief that is holding me back really belong to me?”

The thing is…life doesn’t wait for us. Spring is shouting that message loud and clear at the moment as the wheel turns once more. Everything in nature is getting ready to unleash it’s potential, to create itself, to become visible. We too have potential to release, parts of ourselves that long to be unveiled, empowered with self-direction, given life and breath. In many ways we are no different to the seeds, filled at our core with the knowledge of who we are, with everything we need to manifest and express our true nature. The plant kingdom provides us with tremendous examples of entering into the flow of that unfolding. A dandelion honours the blueprint inside itself, it doesn’t question whether it has the right to be a dandelion or whether it should be trying to be less like a dandelion and more like a crocus! We are in the world to be visible, to be present, to grow into the fullness of who we truly are without shame or fear. And like the seeds, those hidden parts of us have been dreaming of themselves through a very long, cold winter. They have been waiting for this moment, for the return of the sun to awaken them and make them fully alive.

Transitions

I went for a walk the other day. It was one of those days we sometimes get at this time of year that fool us into thinking that we have shaken off the winter and that spring is finally here. The sun was shining with that fresh kind of warmth, the birds were singing joyfully, the squirrels were chasing each other up and down tall conifers, while the deciduous trees were busy adorning their branches in tiny green leaf buds. The whole place had that feeling of life renewing, vitality streaming in as everything rejoiced in the return of the light. I bathed in it for some time before wandering at which point I noticed that despite the appearance of the small leaf buds, there were also small clumps of brown leaves dotted amongst the branches. Leaves from the previous cycle that hadn’t quite managed to fall to earth and join their fellows on the carpet of faded russets and ambers that spread out before me.

This sight started me thinking about the way in which we as human beings tend to like things to be clear cut. In general we like structure, for things to be one thing or another. For those of us who follow an earth spiritual path, we mark out the year with designated points that help us to understand the turning of the seasons, the rise and fall of the earth and sun. All this is a tried and true way for us to form a relationship with this cycle in a meaningful way. However, when we venture out into nature, it is often considerably more messy.

It is not uncommon for us to see two or more points of a cycle in evidence at any one time. Some things are exactly where we expect them to be, but others will be a bit ahead, others lagging behind. This is often a much more accurate representation of what we experience as human beings when we consciously engage in any kind of personal growth, healing or transformation. It’s not clear cut and things can often feel as though they are swaying back and forth between one state and another. Not all of our being moves at the same pace and it can be easy to get demoralised and feel that we are not making progress.

The traditions around New Year gives a good example of how many of us might experience this. Every year, lots of people get fired up about new resolutions, identifying things in their lives that aren’t working for them and making a commitment to change. That might be small shifts in thinking or behavioural habits, or it could be major changes to lifestyle. The psychological marker of the new year is a wonderful way to receive a big blast of momentum to get us going as one cycle ends and we enter a new one with a sense of a clean slate and a chance for a new start. That initial boost to our intentions is a powerful one and can carry us quite some way. However, as we reach the end of February and into the beginning of March we may find ourselves faltering in our resolve.

This is often the time when the first flash of novelty has started to fade. Perhaps we are becoming aware of just how much sustained effort is involved in creating lasting change. Perhaps we are finding that old habits, behaviours and ways of thinking are trying to reassert themselves. Despite the fact that we may be seeing those small buds of change in our life, that growth has not yet had a chance to establish itself. All too often we continue to see the clump of brown leaves on the branch that reminds us of where we have been and the previous choices we have made.  Whenever we start our process of change or creation, this is a stage that we must all go through and it’s a time when our dreams become vulnerable.

For me this year, I have experienced this with a resolve to lose weight. I have laid out my plans for change and implemented them with some enthusiasm. I have spent time with the inner work, looking at why I have been making certain choices over the last few years. I am seeing some buds appearing: I’ve lost a few pounds; I have more energy; I am feeling empowered to make choices that serve my new vision rather than those that sabotage it. However, every time I look in the mirror or get on the scales, I am confronted by the clump of brown leaves on the branch, the evidence of all those past choices that have manifested through my physical body and have not quite moved on yet.

I was so grateful to the trees on my woodland walk for reminding me that I am in a process of transition, that this stage is necessary in any kind of growth or transformation…this feeling of being in between two states that is shifting into the new without having quite managed to fully let go of the old. And that that’s okay. Along with that came a reminder about the importance of where we invest our energy.

Looking at those trees that were so graceful in carrying the old and the new alongside each other, I was struck by the awareness that the trees were no longer feeding those old leaves. All their energy, all their life force was directed into the new growth, the new vision. They can allow the old dead leaves to remain as long as they need to, to let them fall when they are ready, because those leaves are not holding them back from new growth. So it is for us humans.

If we truly want change then we need to stop feeding the old habits, behaviours, thinking or choices and trust them to fall away in their own time instead of investing in them or allowing feelings of failure or self-reprimand to creep in. Even if we have to go back into our past to understand and come to terms with our previous choices, this is still moving us forwards, it is new growth.

When we commit our energy and our focus to what we want to create, to change, to grow, to heal or transform – when we act and make choices that are aligned with the new cycle rather than the old – then we have what we need to carry us through to the spring that supports us in establishing the changes we have longed for. The trees have understood something we so often do not…that the choices we make in the present about what we give our energy and attention to, are so often crucial to the future we will create.  Do our current choices support us in stepping into that bigger picture and flow of life, encouraging us to unfold and become fuller, brighter versions of ourselves? Or do they keep us stuck in a place that no longer nourishes us or fulfils our needs?

Most of us will stumble many times along the way but each day, each moment, is an opportunity to reassert our direction, to review and change the choices we make in our lives and what they orientate us towards. We are part of nature’s endless cycles and they move through our lives whether we engage with them consciously or not. How much more joyful to be an active participant than to stand on the sidelines as an onlooker!

One Stone Too Far…

Gosh, it seems so long since I was last here!  Well, after my break I am feeling considerably better and ready to leap into a new topic that I have been mulling over recently.  What is this megalith that has been on my mind?  It is the Stanza Stones Project: a collaborative art project organised by the Ilkey Literature Festival, imove and Pennine Prospects as part of the cultural programme running up to to the 2012 Olympics.  The project places work by the well-known modern poet Simon Armitage into the landscape of Ilkley Moor and surrounding areas in West Yorkshire by carving the words of his poems into a number of rocks. A couple of these rocks have been imported, but many form part of the Moor’s natural geology.  The idea is that they will form a ‘poetry trail’ through the landscape between Marsden and Ilkley.  Two poems have already been carved, at Marsden Quarry and Nab Hill, with more to follow.

The poems are a collection called ‘In Memory of Water’ and are all on the theme of water, an important natural force that has helped to shape the landscape in this area.  The organisers suggest that the carving of the poems onto the rocks places the work into the context of human carving in the moor’s landscape over centuries, from prehistoric times through to masonry, through to ‘twenty-first century informal unauthorised carving’ (otherwise known as graffitti!  More on that later…). Read more…

John Barleycorn Must Die

I seem to have developed a complete inability to finish anything at the moment. Not sure why that should be, but this is about the 5th blog post I’ve begun in recent weeks, so I hope that I will find my way to the end of it this time.   If you’re reading this then yay, looks like I made it :D.  So what to write about? Well, the focus of my days over the past week or so has been wheat. Or more specifically gluten, one of its proteins.

I won’t bore you with the frustrations of dealing with GPs, but suffice to say, that many months ago I had become very unwell and had started to strongly suspect that I had a bit of a problem with eating gluten. Rather than continue to endure it over the months it took to get an appointment with the right person, I decided to help myself, so I cut it out of my diet to see what would happen. After a few months I felt soooo much better and was really starting to feel more like myself than I had done for a long time: my symptoms were disappearing, I was exercising again, my energy was coming back more and more as the weeks went by. Yippeeeee I thought! So you may be able to imagine how dismayed I was a couple of weeks ago, to be told that I needed to be tested for a condition called Coeliac and that the preparation for this test would mean going back to a gluten diet on what they call ‘the gluten challenge’. Read more…

Blackbird Singing In The Dead Of The Night…

One of the things that inspires my creative work most of all is Nature. That’s everything, from the dramatic hills and moorland of the Peak District where I live, to the tiniest bugs that I find wandering around in the grass on my lawn (though sticking my toes in an ants’ nest the other week didn’t generate quite so much affection!!).  I can’t get enough of the green stuff and having finally escaped many years of town centre life a few years ago, I’m not sure I could ever go back to that now.

I grew up in a quiet village called Prestbury on the edge of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire and spent my childhood running around in fields and woods. One of my most treasured childhood memories is of standing spellbound on the edge of the trees as I watched a wild deer grazing in the sunlight that had made its way through a glossy canopy of Beech leaves. The magic and tranquillity of that scene kept me returning to that place throughout my life, right up until I left the area. Read more…

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: